Donaire closes in on fighter of the year

WBO and Ring Magazine junior featherweight champion Nonito Donaire did more than just retain his titles by putting Jorge Arce on his back at the end of the third round Saturday night.

He may have also solidified his claim as the fighter of the year.

Having already won three consecutive bouts this year, Bay Area-raised Donaire (31-1, 20 KO) capped off his 2012 campaign with an impressive knockout win over Mexican veteran Arce, dropping him three times en route to a third-round knockout win from the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.

After dropping Arce with a quick straight right hand in the second round, Donaire staggered him with another right hand and followed up with three left hooks that floored him once more.

Arce (61-7, 46 KO) returned to his feet and dared Donaire to hit him again – and ate a blistering left hook that sealed the deal with only a second remaining in the round.

Arce announced his retirement shortly after the bout and said he would return to his birthplace of Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico to take care of his family.

It is rare for a fighter of Donaire’s caliber to elect to fight four times in a single year, but with each impressive performance, he made an emphatic statement.

This past February, he made his junior featherweight debut, knocking down Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. and punishing him to win the vacant WBO title – albeit via surprising split decision.

Three months later, despite facing a near five-inch height disadvantage, Donaire not only knocked Jeffrey Mathebula down in the fourth round, but also broke his jaw to unify the WBO and IBF titles via unanimous decision.

Donaire’s most impressive performance prior to Saturday night may have been his ninth-round destruction of former WBC super bantamweight champion Toshiaki Nishioka in October.

Going into the bout, Nishioka (39-5-3, 24 KO) was riding an eight-year undefeated winning streak that saw him win all but two of his seven successful title defenses by knockout, including his stunning third-round technical knockout win over Jhonny Gonzalez in Gonzalez’ native country of Mexico.

Entering the bout with a one-inch height advantage, Nishioka looked to present a daunting challenge stylistically to the 30-year-old Donaire, a former flyweight, super flyweight and bantamweight champion.

The San Leandro product, who was born in Talibon, Bohol, Philippines, turned the bout into a sparring session, dropping Nishioka in the sixth and ninth rounds en route to the TKO victory.

Against the naturally smaller Arce, Donaire, whose nickname is “The Filipino Flash,” once again demonstrated pugilistic artistry by constantly tagging Arce with his jab, straight right hand and uppercut, not allowing his challenger to take control of the fight.

Donaire is undoubtedly one of the sport’s best boxer-punchers, but what remains to be seen is if he can become the next Filipino superstar in the wake of fellow countryman Manny Pacquiao’s crushing sixth-round knockout loss to Juan Manuel Márquez on Dec. 8.

Though Donaire and Arce are good friends outside the ring, Donaire gained a measure of revenge for his country just a week after Mexican veteran Márquez sent shockwaves throughout the boxing world with his punch heard around the world.

While many Filipino fans would love to see Donaire avenge Pacquiao by knocking out Márquez, significant weight differences make the dream match virtually impossible.

Nonetheless, should Donaire receive the fighter of the year honor, he will have truly earned it after building quite the impressive résumé within the past 10 months.

If this year has been any indication of what to expect from “The Filipino Flash” in 2013, then the best of Nonito Donaire is still to come – and with the momentum he’s been building in recent years, the sky is the limit.